Trail and snow update 18th November 2020

[UPDATE Friday 20th November: Melting continues to be widespread at all elevations, especially on sun-exposed slopes. The route from Devil’s Slide Trail to San Jacinto Peak via the Wellman and Peak trails was largely clear of snow and ice this morning. The usual two stubborn areas of continuous icy snow remain, an extended area of about 0.6 mile either side of Annie’s Junction, and again for about 0.4 mile near 10,000′ elevation on the Peak Trail. Spikes are useful in those sections, especially for descending. Devil’s Slide Trail is basically clear of snow.]

I have continued to average at least three ascents into the San Jacinto high country every week. Our speedy ascent on Monday 16th from Humber Park to San Jacinto Peak required no spikes on a well-consolidated trail, although spikes were very helpful for most of the descent on somewhat patchy, compacted, icy snow. I used spikes more extensively on today’s fast hike up and down via Marion Mountain and Deer Springs trails.

With a dramatic swing to temperatures far above seasonal, melting has been rapid at all elevations. Most areas below 7000′ are largely clear, and the snow on sun-exposed slopes all the way to the high peaks, but especially below 10,000′, is melting rapidly. We started this morning and on Monday before first light in an air temperature ten degrees above average, and descended to Idyllwild late morning in a temperature more than 20 degrees above seasonal. Melting will continue to be very fast this week.

Most major trails have now been traveled and have reliable compacted snow tracks to follow (of varying quality, depending on hiker traffic volume), which are also clearing rapidly of course lower down. Cautious navigation is nevertheless recommended everywhere. Snow depths measured Monday are listed at the foot of this posting.

Spikes remain strongly recommended in most areas above about 7000′ elevation for at least the next week or so as consolidated snow undergoes freeze-thaw cycles, creating dangerous icy conditions. Even when not needed for ascending, spikes are especially useful for descending trails where they are icy and compacted. Snowshoes remain useful for off trail travel only in the high country above about 9000‘, potentially lower on colder slopes.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather on average, hikers should nevertheless be prepared for temperatures near freezing in the high country, and at or below freezing when considering wind chill effects (see below for recent temperatures recorded at San Jacinto Peak).

For details regarding hiking permits, camping restrictions, ranger station access, and the Tramway, please see this previous Report, or contact the State Park or Forest Service as indicated on their websites.

WEATHER After a couple of remarkably warm days at the beginning of this week, the next ten days starting Wednesday 18th are forecast to be consistently slightly above seasonal both overnight and by day. Extensive snowmelt will continue at all elevations. There is no significant precipitation in the forecast.

At San Jacinto Peak (10,810ft/3295m) on Monday 16th November 2020 at 0850 the air temperature was 43.1°F (6°C), with a windchill temperature of 33.9°F (1°C), 33% relative humidity, and a surprisingly cool SSE wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 18.9 mph.

At the Peak on Friday 13th November 2020 at 0835 the air temperature was 34.4°F (1°C), with a windchill temperature of 23.4°F (-5°C), 36% relative humidity, and a moderate NW wind sustained at 7 mph gusting to 12.5 mph.

At the Peak last Monday, 9th November 2020, at 1005 the air temperature was 19.0°F (-7°C), with a windchill temperature of 12.3°F (-11°C), 51% relative humidity, and a very light due North breeze sustained at 1.0 mph gusting to 5.3 mph.

TRAIL CONDITIONS

All trails above about 7500′ remain largely snow-covered. Most areas below 7500′ are clear or rapidly clearing of snow. Reliable tracks are now in place for most major trails including: Devil’s Slide, Deer Springs, Marion Mountain, Peak, Wellman, Long and Round Valley through to Wellman Divide, Skyline, South Ridge, Tahquitz Peak, and the Tahquitz area meadows.

Tahquitz Peak trail from Chinquapin Flat/PCT Mile 178 has steps to follow through the angled icy snow. These icy slopes are treacherous. Currently spikes are recommended.

Devil’s Slide Trail is largely clear of snow to 7600′. Snow is patchy but more continuous above that elevation, becoming continuous near Saddle Junction. The trail is hard and icy and spikes are very useful for descending. [The major new treefall hazard just past the second switchback was cut on 20th November.]

South Ridge Trail is largely clear to Old Lookout Flat at 7600′. Snow cover is largely continuous from there to the Peak, other than on sun-exposed sections of trail. Remaining snow will melt dramatically over the next few days. Spikes are useful for descending especially early in the morning. South Ridge Road (open) is clear of ice.

Deer Springs Trail is clear (or clearing rapidly) of snow up to and past Strawberry Junction to about 8600′, just before the Marion Mountain Trail junction. Snow is nearly continuous from there to the Fuller Ridge Trail junction. Thereafter snow cover averages 50% depending on exposure, but it is 100% in Little Round Valley. Above Little Round Valley the consolidated track through the snow does not accurately follow the trail route to San Jacinto Peak, but is adequate. Spikes are very useful, especially for descending, as snow is icy and compacted.

Marion Mountain Trail is basically clear to 7600′ (no spikes required). There is largely continuous icy snow for about 0.5 mile from 7600′-8100′, before clearing again until just below the PCT junction. Spikes are useful, especially for descending.

Ernie Maxwell Trail is almost clear of snow, with a few icy patches remaining on the upper end near Humber Park.

Seven Pines Trail has had no hiker traffic since the snowfall, with no tracks or trail to follow. Indeed this trail has only been hiked ery little since November 2018. Extremely cautious navigation is recommended for those who are not very familiar with hiking this trail. The Forest Service closure of Dark Canyon Road continues, and there is no vehicular access to Seven Pines trailhead.

SNOW DEPTHS measured today, 16th November 2020, are as follows. Note that average depth is given; extensive drifting and differential melting has led to uneven depths. Altitudes are approximate.

San Jacinto Peak (10810′): 4″ (was 9″ on 9th November)

Wellman Divide (9700′): 1″ (was 8″ on 9th November)

Annie’s Junction/approx. PCT Mile 181.8 (9070′): 4″ (was 8″ on 9th November)

Long Valley (8600′): 2″ (was 5″ on 9th November)

Saddle Junction/approx. PCT Mile 179.9 (8070′): 3″ (was 8″ on 9th November)

Devil’s Slide Trail at Humber Park (6550′): 0″ (was 8″ on 9th November)

View south to Marion Mountain from San Jacinto Peak, 16th November 2020 (above), and a week earlier on 9th November (below).

San Jacinto Trail Report: available for everyone, funded by readers. While all labor and time is volunteered, this Report completely depends on small private donations to cover its direct costs. In an especially challenging year, and a busy winter already underway, every contribution is invaluable. If you have found this Report useful, please consider visiting the Donate page. Thank you.

Peak Trail at 9800′ just above Wellman Divide, 16th November 2020 (above), and the same view on 9th November (below).

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